FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With exactly two weeks until the 2012 season officially begins, the Northern Arizona soccer team recently completed its first three days of preseason training on Friday in preparation of its Aug. 17 season opening date at UNLV.
"There's been fantastic energy on everybody's part," said head coach Andre Luciano. "I'm really pleased with the attitude that our returnees have heading into the season and I love the energy that the freshmen are bringing to every training session."
Over the first couple of practices, the point of emphasis has been on the defensive side of the ball, an aspect that the Lumberjacks struggled at times last season. But the Lumberjacks return a wealth of experience in the defensive backline with junior Lauren Weaver, a 2011 All-Big Sky Honorable Mention selection, anchoring the defense in goal. In front of Weaver, Luciano also has five players who started at least six games in the backline a year ago return on defense.
Yet, the biggest addition might be the return of senior Georgia Foltz, who is back for a fifth season after suffering a season-ending injury in NAU's second game last season. Foltz, an all-conference honorable mention selection herself in 2010, has started 54 games in her career.
"We've been breaking down the basics of defending in practice," Foltz said. "We've been doing a lot of 1v1 and 1v2 to learn how to properly defend so when we get on the field, we all know how we're all going to defend."
In addition to the emphasis on defense, another big part of the early preseason training has been the incorporation of 15 newcomers with the 14 returnees on the roster. Of the 15 newcomers, 14 are freshmen while sophomore Savannah Berry is a transfer from Florida.
"The newcomers have been great," Luciano said. "They've bought into what we've been trying to sell and they've done very well with the upperclassmen. The upperclassmen have integrated them in a positive way and we look forward to big things from this group."
But the training definitely hasn't been easy, a sentiment that is shared by both the newcomers and the returnees.
"It's definitely been as physically challenging as I expected," said freshman Demi Schmieder. "I've hit all types of highs and lows during the first practice. You get broken down both mentally and physically and when you achieve something, it's one of the highest points of the day. But it's been really fun and I'm starting to get into a rhythm now."
"The first couple days are always really hard," Foltz added. "It's brutal, you can't be afraid to go hard against each other in practice. After three days, your body wants to fall apart but the first few days are the most important."
The Lumberjacks will continue to practice daily leading up to their season opener in Las Vegas, Nev. and aside from the skills, there's one thing Luciano hopes to build in the next two weeks.
"Early in the year it's always tough to make an assessment of who you'll be in October," Luciano said. "I think the most important for us right now is to establish our team chemistry and get these players to love playing for each other."
NAU will play UNLV on Aug. 17 at Peter Johann Memorial Field at 7 p.m.